I'm very pleased to have Cathy Ace with me again today. Cathy is the author of the Cait Morgan mysteries. I interviewed her back in August when she was touring for her second mystery, The Corpse with the Golden Nose. Now she's back with the third Cait Morgan mystery, The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb, and it's every bit as good as the last one. (Make sure you continue reading after the interview for my review and a giveaway!)
Lark (Bookwyrm's Hoard): Hi, Cathy, and welcome back to The Bookwyrm’s Hoard!
Cathy Ace: Thanks for having me back again – it’s good to be here!
Lark: Last time you were here, I had a chance to ask some general questions about your writing process, so I already know that you plot your mysteries out in advance. But each Cait Morgan mystery has been set in a different part of the world. How do you decide where each story will take place, and how do you research those locations? And how much influence does the location have on the plot, or vice versa?
CA: The relationship between the location, the characters and the story is a complex one. I feel that the location is, in fact, a character itself. It’s almost a chicken and egg situation—the stories I tell could only take place exactly where they do, because the stories spring from the place and the people. As for where those places will be, well, that’s not too difficult to decide. I have traveled extensively for decades, so Cait Morgan can follow in my footsteps, and I can talk about places as someone who knows how they are today, but also from the perspective of someone who is fascinated with history and culture. Research is the fun part—sometimes it’s food and drink research (!) other times it’s historical research, or making sure I have my facts right about a particular piece or type of art.
Lark: You mentioned in our last interview that you wrote your first mystery short story in 1989, but then focused on your technical writing career for almost twenty years before returning to fiction around 2007. What prompted or inspired you to start writing mysteries again?
CA: My Mum and Dad were so proud when my short story was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2007 that it made a huge impact on me. Sadly, my Dad died shortly afterwards. My parents had always encouraged me to make the most of every opportunity, so I decided to try my hand at fiction again. My Mum is still a very proud parent!
Lark: She has every reason to be! You’ve had a number of short stories published, including two anthologies of your work, Murder: Season by Season and Murder: Month by Month. Two of your stories were even produced for BBC 4’s “Afternoon Reading” program. At what point did you move from writing short stories to writing full-length mystery novels, and why? And is there anything that surprised you about the difference in writing short fiction vs. novels?
CA: I really felt that writing short stories and novella was my way to learn how the shape of telling a story changes with the form. I wanted to write a novel, but I felt I needed to better understand structure first. I was invited to submit a manuscript for a novel by my now-publisher in 2010. I sent it off to them just before Christmas that year. I enjoyed writing that first novel, and especially savored the experience of seeing my protagonist flourish within the longer format. It might sound obvious to say that the main difference between short stories and novels is the length, and that’s true, but the form is different too. That said, I think you can tell I’ve written short stories because I get right to the heart of the mystery very early in my novels—the titular corpse is usually encountered on the first or second page!
Lark: I've noticed that, and it certainly grabs my attention right from the start! Next question: In creating the character of Cait Morgan, how did you come up with her unique combination of traits and skills, which make her so well-suited to solving mysteries?
CA: I knew I wanted Cait to be bright, and that her weapon of choice would always be her brain. Making her a member of Mensa allowed me to “show not tell” how clever she is. The fact that she’s a psychologist is also useful when it comes to solving the “why” of a crime, and, of course, that eidetic memory is very handy! When she uses the “wakeful dreaming” technique, she gives herself (and the reader) the chance to re-examine all the clues. I’d like to say that I am exactly like Cait, so that’s why she is the way she is, but that’s not entirely true. Yes, I graduated in psychology and do belong to Mensa. I even have a bit of an odd memory—but I pushed that to the hilt for Cait, and the “wakeful dreaming” is based upon a wide range of almost-hypnotic trance states, and is a great device for reviewing before the final denouement!
Lark: Cait’s “significant other”, Bud Anderson, is a former policeman, which sometimes comes in handy in getting needed information. Yet she is the one who solves the mysteries (and narrates the books.) Is it difficult to maintain the right balance between Cait’s and Bud’s skills and experience?
CA: I really want to write Cait Morgan Mysteries, so, yes, I have to be very careful about Bud. He needs to be in the picture, but not at the center of it. The ways he helps and supports Cait, and really does understand when to step up or when to back off, are critical to the story working well. In THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB we see Cait stepping up to save Bud, which I think allows her to shine very brightly in a situation where she cannot rely on her man’s help.
Lark: You’ve got two more Cait Morgan mysteries coming out in 2015. Can you give us any hints as to where she’s headed in those? And will her relationship with Bud survive their frequent brushes with murder?
CA: In September 2014 Cait will be off to Vegas where she’ll encounter THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR. She and Bud are hoping to enjoy celebrating Bud’s birthday, but things don’t go quite as planned! I have already written the book which will be published in the spring of 2015, and I can tell you that—drum roll please—Cait will be heading to her homeland, Wales, in THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES. As for the next book, the one which will come out in the fall of 2015? I think I’d better allow that to remain a mystery. And I also respectfully decline to answer any questions about how Cait and Bud will get on. She’s a strong, independent, though sometimes unpredictable, woman, and Bud’s a strong, forceful, reliable man. Of course, neither of them is getting any younger, but . . . no, that’s it about them!
Lark: Cathy, thank you again for coming by to talk with me today. I can’t wait for the next two books to come out! I love Wales, so now I'm doubly excited for The Corpse with the Sapphire Eyes.
CA: Thanks so much for having me along – I enjoyed it very much!
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Criminologist and foodie Cait Morgan was looking forward to her dream vacation in Mexico with her boyfriend Bud Anderson. She wasn’t anticipating a fresh corpse on the floor of a local florist’s shop, and she definitely wasn’t expecting Bud to become the prime suspect.
With Bud’s freedom, and maybe even his life, at stake, Cait has to fight the clock to work out which member of the small community living in the seemingly idyllic municipality of Punta de las Rocas might have killed the locally respected florist, and why. Needing to investigate under the watchful gaze of the local police, Cait has to keep her relationship with Bud a secret, and she soon discovers she’s not the only one with something to hide. Peeling back layers of deceit to reveal even more puzzles, Cait struggles with a creeping sense of unreality, desperate to save Bud . . . and, ultimately, herself.
In the third book in the beloved Cait Morgan Mysteries, The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb, travel to the idyllic Mexican countryside as Cait Morgan works against the clock to clear her wrongly accused partner of murder.
REVIEW:If you haven't discovered Cathy Ace's Cait Morgan series yet, you're in for a treat. Ace blends Golden Age-style writing with contemporary characters, settings, and plots; the resulting novels feel like a modern version of an Agatha Christie mystery. Ace is scrupulous about giving the reader all the clues while keeping at least some of her detective's conclusions hidden until the grand denouement. And as in a Christie novel, the denouement usually takes place with all the suspects gathered together.
Ace's main character, Cait Morgan, could have been invented by Christie as well. She's brilliant, observant, and a member of Mensa -- not unlike Poirot. She has a Miss Marple-like grasp of psychology, although in Cait's case it's the result of her training rather than decades of living in a small village. But don't let these comparisons mislead you; there's nothing in the least unorginal about Cait Morgan or the mysteries she solves. While Ace has clearly been influenced by Golden Age mysteries, her stories and characters are distinctly her own.
In The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb, for instance, Cait and Bud arrive in Mexico for a needed vacation. Within the first hour, Bud is found with a fresh corpse in a flower shop and arrested for murder. Cait is left walking a metaphorical tightrope; in order to prove Bud's innocence, she has to pretend not to know him so she can insert herself and her professional skills into the official investigation.
But there may be more secrets in Bucerias than the one Cait is keeping, and Bud has one or two himself. As Cait tries to navigate the relationships in the small tourist town, with its English-speaking ex-patriots and Mexican population, she soon realizes that not everything -- or everyone -- is quite what it seems. And a recent spate of serial killings in the region may or may not be connected...
Cait's formidable abilities are put to good use in this novel. Her eidetic memory comes in quite handy when she has to reconstruct the movements of people immediately before the murder, as seen from her balcony. And we're treated to a bewildering, Wonderland-like display of Cait's wakeful dreaming technique, which simultaneously illuminates and confuses; it's only when the solution is laid out that many of the elements in her waking dream make sense. Her narration is deftly written; we see everything Cait sees, and know many of her thoughts, but Ace skillfully hides Cait's conclusions until she's ready to reveal them. We also see some of Cait's weaknesses; I can't go into detail without spoilers, so I'll just say that Cait's focus on clearing Bud and maintaining her own mask keeps her from noticing the masks or secrets of one or two other characters despite her ability to read micro-expressions.
I love it when a mystery author manages to keep me guessing, and I freely admit that I didn't pay enough attention to the true killer. I wasn't completely surprised, but the actual murderer wasn't among my top two suspects. I did pick up on several clues before they were explained, though, so I don't feel like a total dunce! The plotting and eventual reveal are very well done, and the mystery works perfectly with the location and context. Ace's characterization is equally strong; obviously Cait is front and center, as both the amateur detective and the narrator, but the other characters, even when relatively minor, come across as realistic, neither stereotypes nor cardboard cutouts.
Another plus for the series is that each mystery is strong enough to stand alone. While there's a progression to Cait and Bud's relationship over the three mysteries so far, you can jump in with this book (or as I did, with the second book) without feeling like you're floundering.
I highly recommend The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb and the Cait Morgan series to anyone who prefer clever, well-written puzzles that respect the reader's intelligence along with interesting characters and fascinating settings.
Rating: 4.5 stars
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About the author:
Category: Cozy mystery
Series: Cait Morgan #3
Publisher: TouchWood Editions
Release date: April 22, 2014
Book source: I received a digital review copy via Great Escapes Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review.
WIN a paperback copy of The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb!
Other stops on the tour
April 22 - dru's book musing – Guest Post
April 23 - The Bookwyrm's Hoard - Review, Interview - 1 print copy giveaway
April 24 –Chloe Gets A Clue - Guest Post
April 25 – Shelley's Book Case - Review - 1 e-copy KINDLE FORMAT Giveaway
April 26 – Kelly P's Blog - Interview
April 27 – Little Whimsy Books - Review
April 28 – readalot blog - Review
April 29 – Socrates' Book Reviews - Review, Guest Post
April 30 – Kaisy Daisy's Corner - Review
May 1 – Books-n-Kisses - Review - 1 print copy giveaway
May 2 – Back Porchervations - Interview
May 3 – Brooke Blogs - Review - 1 e-copy KINDLE FORMAT Giveaaway
May 4 – Cozy Up With Kathy - Guest Post
May 5 – Queen of All She Reads - Review, Guest Post
May 6 – rantin' ravin' and reading - Review, Interview - 1 e-copy KINDLE FORMAT Giveaway